Paul Elmer More

Literary Criticism as the History of Ideas

By Stephen L. Tanner

Hardcover : 9780887065606, 267 pages, July 1987

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Table of contents


One Introduction

The Argument

More's Objectives

The Development of More's Thought

Characteristics of More's Method

Limitations and Procedures

Two First Principles

Art and Life








Three The Renaissance

The Spirit of the Renaissance

The Religious Imagination

The Ethos of the Restoration


Four The Eighteenth Century

A Battle of the Wits

A Compliant Brotherhood

Rousseau and the Drift to Humanitarianism

The Quarrelsome Twins of Rational Science and Irrational Romanticism

Five The Nineteenth Century

The Romantic Revolution in England

The Philosophy of Change

The Religious Spirit

Morality and Fiction

Foreign Voices

Currents of Literary Criticism

The Decadent Illusion


Six American Literature

More and the New England Tradition

The Spirit of Early New England

The Flowering of New England

The Dispossessed Conscience

Seven The Twentieth Century

More and the Modern Spirit

The Demon of the Absolute

Modern Currents in American Literature

The Lust of Irresponsibility

Eight Conclusion

Summary of Historical Continuity

Summary of Philosophical Continuity

More's Achievement

List of Abbreviations




Paul Elmer More was one of the leaders of the New Humanism, the most important critical movement in the United States during the first decades of this century. It was a wide-ranging moral approach to literary and cultural criticism that laid the intellectual foundation for American conservatism. Though eclipsed in the realm of critical fashions by more exclusively aesthetic approaches, the moral approach retains its appeal among general readers, and More has remained known and respected among those concerned with literature as an expression of ideas and values, as a criticism of life.

Seriously considered for the Nobel Prize on two occasions, More wrote over a dozen volumes of literary criticism, which Robert Spiller, in the Literary History of the United States, calls "the utmost ambitious and often the most penetrating body of judicial literary criticism in our literature. " Among those who have praised More's brilliant and comprehensive mind is T. S. Eliot, who in acknowledging his indebtedness to More referred to him as "one of the two wisest men I have known. "

Focusing on the continuity of More's literary criticism, Stephen L. Tanner has performed the useful service of distilling from More's diverse and prolific literary essays the characteristic principles that determined his literary judgments. Chief among these principles is a concept of dualism that views each individual as being subject to the opposing forces of "passion of the moment and the eternal law above and within. " This concept is the anchor point of More's probing critique of the excessive and dehumanizing forms of romanticism, naturalism, humanitarianism, scientism, and rationalism. And it accounts for his forceful advocacy of the "inner check" and the "law of measure. "